11th March 2016 – Indie Recordings
02. Blood of Men
03. Barrow of Torolv
05. The Wicked’s Transient Sleep
08. Evil Heir
There is a big subset of black metal fans for whom having the vocalist of Darkthrone and an album steeped in Nordic mythology is automatically sufficient for a winning recipe. Sarke started life as the side project of Thomas Bergil of Khold and Tulus fame, but he was joined by Darkthrone frontman Ted Skjellum – A.K.A. Nocturno Culto, genuine black metal royalty by all accounts – before the release of their debut album Vorunah. Sarke now have three albums to their name, returning in 2016 with new offering Bogefod; a sprawling, ambitious concept album steeped in traditional Norse folklore – but given the recent trend for established black metal acts pushing their own genre boundaries (see Abbath, Ihsahn et al), is repeating a near thirty year old formula sufficient?
Bogefod tells the story of Torolv Bogefod – “Thorolf Half-Foot” in English – from the latter sections of the classic Norse Eyrbyggja saga. This part of the saga deals with folk tales dating back over a thousand years, specifically focusing on those stories relating to supernatural events and Draugr – reanimated bodies of the dead. It deals with Torolv both during his life – relating how he gained his “half-foot” status after a leg wound suffered during a challenge he issued to his rival Ulfar, how he was referred to as the “most wrongful of men” as well as covering his ugly death – and how upon his passing he was transformed into a Draugr: “uncorrupted, and with an ugly look about him, swollen to the size of an ox”. After his spirit tormented the countryside for a year, killing livestock and local shepherds, his body is finally interred once and for all by his son Arnkel, who ensures the grave is surrounded by a wall to prevent his spirit escaping. In the aftermath, birds that pass over the grave drop dead out of the sky and local wildlife and people were driven insane by simply being close to the resting site. According to Skjellum, Bogefod delves into the core of what Sarke are all about.
The track titles of the album as well as the lyrical content closely follow the narrative and it is evident that the standout impact of the album is Skjellum’s vocal delivery and lyrical capability. Much of the conceptual delivery of the album is left to him to accomplish; in stark contrast to the honed and expertly-crafted lyrics – particularly on tracks “Blood of Men” and “Sunken” – Bogefod‘s music feels laboured and at times contrived. He binds the more sluggish aspects of the music together with his polished delivery, and on “Dawning” we get a nice respite from his classic black metal style as we’re treated to a bit of an operatic number; a welcome change of scenery for the album, but sadly too fleeting a moment of variation on an album that feels stagnant.
After the departure of former drummer Asgeir Mickelson (formerly of Borknagar fame) Bergil himself has returned to kit, but the absence of a truly experienced black metal drummer is keenly felt throughout the record: there are no blasts, no twin bass drum assaults and whisper it carefully…no fun. This would be all fine and dandy if the album felt as operatic and atmospheric as, say, an Alcest album, but it simply doesn’t carry the same craft and nous. Bergil also provides bass duties for the album and it’s equally difficult to note any truly meaningful contribution on that front either, often simply following the simple monotonous drum patterns, which does nothing to enhance the album, and in fact stagnates it by offering little variation both within songs and across the album as a whole.
Steinar Gundersen of Satyricon is the man entrusted with injecting urgency and drive to the album with his distinctive classic black metal overdriven tone. He at least partially succeeds where his bandmates perhaps do not; on album standout “The Wicked’s Transient Sleep” he provides clever changes of pace and attack as well as wonderfully rich sustain on the slower sections of the song. Sadly without a rhythm section to match his skilled aggression the overall effect is greatly diminished. He can still be indulged on certain sections, especially the album closer “Sunken” which rounds off Bogefod the way it ideally should have opened; full of groove and with instrumentation matched to the calibre of its vocalist.
For the experienced black metal fan there is nothing on this album to really draw the listener in, besides the occasional moment. Despite the wonderful imagery and source material used to create the album concept is it let down by the sub-par musicality as a whole. Bogefod just does not manage to do credit to the epic expansive setting of its story and as a result leaves the listener confused. The Draugr analogy is apt as for the most part Bogefod feels like it was the laboured work of a reanimated body: listless and without direction.